DEMA recently published the results of its 2020 ‘Dive Behavioral Research Project’ from a survey conducted in 2019. A previous dive behavioral research was conducted in 2014.
I reviewed the results of both the 2019 and the 2014 studies to identify key pieces of information to help you manage your dive business. I was especially interested in changes between these 2 reports to identify trends in the scuba diving industry.
About DEMA’s Dive Behavioral Research Project
The goal of the project is to analyze and understand the demographics and psychographics of scuba divers as it pertains to dive travel, scuba diving equipment purchases, and scuba courses.
DEMA is the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association commonly referred to as our dive industry trade association.
The data collection for the DEMA Dive Behavioral Research Project was done through an online survey.
In 2014, 24000 divers responded to the survey with more than 2000 from Canada, about 13000 from the USA, and the remainder from countries across the planet.
In 2019, only 9700 scuba divers responded to the survey with about 1000 from Canada, almost 5000 from the USA, and the rest from countries around the globe.
Available Data Sets and Reports from The Dive Behavioral Research Project
So far, DEMA released 2 sets of data from the 2019 survey:
A Canadian report is forthcoming.
Shortcomings of DEMA’s Reports on Scuba Diver Demographics and Psychographics
There is a serious issue with the 2019 survey besides the fact that the data set was significantly smaller (about 9000 respondents vs. 14000 in 2014).
In the 2019 survey, more than 40% of the respondents were dive professionals: divemasters, assistant instructors, and scuba diving instructors. If we are interested in understanding the behavior of ‘scuba divers’, the 2019 data set is highly unreliable as almost half of the respondents were scuba diving professionals.
We know dive professionals have a behavior that can be significantly different than that of the average Joe Diver. For instance, typically, scuba instructors dive more frequently and purchase more dive gear.
Furthermore, when comparing the two sets of data (2014 vs 2019), we are facing a double problem in regards to dive professionals. In the 2014 study, less than 10% of the respondents were scuba diving professionals (divemaster and up) while there were more than 40% in the 2019 survey
Therefore, we are facing the following 2 serious issues with this DEMA study on scuba diver demographics and psychographics:
- We can’t use the results to understand the behavior of a ‘scuba diver’ as both reports include dive professionals that are much more committed to scuba diving than the average scuba diver — which is especially true in the 2019 set of data with more than 40% of the respondents being dive professionals.
- We can’t fully rely on trends identified in changes from 2014 to 2019 since we would be comparing oranges to electric cars.
It is fair to assume that dive professionals are more ‘core’ than ‘casual’ divers. In fact, we see that the average number of dives completed by 2019 respondents is higher than it was in the 2014 study. Learn more about core and casual divers on Scubanomics.
We’ve contacted DEMA to request a version of both reports (2014 and 2019) excluding all dive professionals, so we can better understand the behavior of scuba divers in regards to dive travel, scuba gear, and dive certification courses. Tom Ingram, head of DEMA, assured us that they “have plans for additional segmentation of the consumer data, including based on certification levels”.
We hope DEMA will quickly produce 2014 and 2019 reports excluding dive professionals as this would be highly valuable to its members trying to understand the behavior of scuba divers.
In the meantime, let’s see what information we can extract from the currently available reports mixing scuba divers and dive professionals.
Key Scuba Diver Demographics and Psychographics 2014 vs 2019
Two interesting trends identified in our review of these 2 studies relate to eLearning and rebreathers.
Scuba Diving Certification Courses at Home, in a Resort, and via eLearning
An assumption often discussed in the dive industry is that online learning is hurting local dive centers because it becomes easier to bypass the local dive center by completing the ‘theory’ part of the course online and then, flying to an exotic dive destination to complete the ‘pool’ and ‘open water’ parts of the scuba diving certification course.
This appears to be partially true but not as much an issue as we usually assume it to be.
- The number of scuba divers who have completed the ‘theory’ part of the course online with no interaction with a local dive shop before flying to a dive resort to complete the ‘pool’ and ‘open water’ parts of the course has increased by less than 1%: from 6% to 6.89%
Meanwhile, we observe more significant changes in the following modes of completing the entry-level open water diver certification:
- The number of scuba divers who have completed all parts of the scuba course while in a vacation setting has declined from 23.9% to 18.7%.
- The number of scuba divers who have completed the ‘theory’ and ‘pool’ parts of the course before going on a trip has increased from 14.6% to 17.6%.
Therefore, it appears there is no reason to fear that eLearning is encouraging scuba divers to bypass the local dive shop. On the contrary, eLearning seems to have increased the number of people completing the ‘pool’ part of the course at home before going on a trip.
It may be more accurate to assume that the online high visibility of eLearning is actually encouraging people to find a local dive shop to complete their pool sessions locally. It’s reducing the number of people going straight to a dive resort to complete the entirety of the entry-level open water certification course.
Increased Interest for Rebreather, Sidemount, and Freediving
There is a huge shift between 2014 and 2019 on the ‘next courses’ respondents were most interested in taking.
In 2014, the courses in which respondents were most interested in taking next were: rescue diver, wreck diver, divemaster, and underwater photographer. This significantly changed in the 2019 survey.
Not only the list of courses has changed but the level of interest has skyrocketed.
We must urge caution with these numbers. As mentioned earlier, the 2019 sample included more than 40% of dive professionals who are much more committed to scuba diving than the average Joe Diver.
Typically, scuba diving instructors have been a good target market for tech diving as dive instructors are looking for more challenges after reaching the pinnacle of recreational diving. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that there is an 84% interest in rebreathers in the general population of scuba divers.
However, these numbers do indicate a significant increase in interest toward tech diving (rebreather, side-mount, other mixed gas) and freediving.
Freediving has seen steady growth over the last few years. Dive gear manufacturers carrying freediving equipment have reported growth in their freediving line of products even when scuba gear sales were down. Both Mares and Aqualung have made significant investments in developing their freediving line of products.
It appears freediving is appealing to the newer generations. Freediving is challenging without requiring that you carry all the cumbersome equipment required for scuba diving. It also makes for great Instagram look-how-cool-I-am pictures!
Role of The Scuba Diving Instructor
The most significant information source for scuba divers to decide what they want to do next remains the dive instructor and divemaster. Instructor/Divemaster gets a score of 4 on 5 while the local dive shop gets a 2.9.
As we’ve stated before, there is a continued need for local scuba diving activities and the focus should be on the action of scuba diving, not on trying to sell dive gear in an understock retail store. We believe that in the years to come, the role of local dive instructors will become more significant while local dive shops redefine their mission and business model.
Related article: A New Paradigm for the Scuba Diving Industry: It’s about diving!
Once DEMA releases the 2014 and 2019 survey results for ‘scuba divers’, excluding dive professionals, we will be able to get more valuable information out of these reports.
Subscribe to Scubanomics to be informed when this data becomes available.
You may be interested in more articles about: